A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8, the City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.
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ROMAN CATHOLICISM (fn. 1)
In the 17th and 18th centuries Coventry was notable as a centre of protestant dissent and it was not until the mid 19th century that there was any marked revival of Roman Catholicism there. However, the Catholic element seems never to have been entirely obliterated. During the 1550s, in spite of the prevailing anti-Catholic temper of the city, (fn. 2) the presence of a few individual Catholics can be traced, including Edward Saunders, the recorder, who in 1553 encouraged the mayor to proclaim Mary and not Jane as queen, in defiance of Northumberland's orders. (fn. 3) In 1556, when the Privy Council was concerned to ensure that a Roman Catholic should be mayor of Coventry, Robert Colman, one of three 'Catholic and honest persons' then eligible, was in fact elected. (fn. 4) In 1606 Edward Knightley, a member of the Catholic family of Offchurch Bury, (fn. 5) was described as 'of Coventry' on his admission to the English College at Valladolid (fn. 6) but nothing is known of his connexion with the city. After the Restoration anti-Catholic feeling was strong (fn. 7) and according to the Compton Census of 1676 there were then only three Catholics in Coventry and two in Foleshill. (fn. 8)
From 1707 at the latest there was a Franciscan mission in Coventry, for in that year the guardian, Nicholas Dallyson, died. Five other 18th-century guardians are known by name. The last, George Athanasius Baynham, came to Coventry in 1769 to take charge of a chapel in a private house in St. Michael's graveyard. (fn. 9) The mission at that date also had the use of houses in Little Park Street and Smithford Street. In the second half of the 18th century the number of Catholics is said to have increased from a mere four in 1757 to 107 by 1770. (fn. 10) This sharp rise, if it occurred, was perhaps partly due to the work of the Dominican mission, originally established at Aston Flamville (Leics.), which during the 1760s brought Coventry within its sphere of activities. The mission was then in the charge of Father Norton who resided at first at Sketchley (Leics.) and from 1765 at Hinckley. From 1795 onwards Father Norton's work at Coventry was undertaken by James Vincent Sharp who died in the city in 1801. (fn. 11)
In 1803 the Benedictines re-established their ancient connexion with Coventry by taking over the mission. (fn. 12) The congregation first met for worship in a house in Little Park Street which was replaced in 1807 by a small brick chapel in Hill Street, (fn. 13) dedicated to St. Mary. (fn. 14) The mission seems to have been served from 1804 onwards by a resident priest; (fn. 15) a school, attached to the chapel, was opened about 1826. (fn. 16)
When William Ullathorne (later Bishop of Birmingham and a titular archbishop) was put in charge of the mission in 1841 he found a small, poor congregation (fn. 17) and a decayed chapel and presbytery. (fn. 18) Aided by Sister Margaret Hallahan (later the foundress of the English congregation of St. Catherine of Siena), he enlarged the congregation and rebuilt the church and presbytery. The church, of the MOST HOLY SACRAMENT AND ST. OSBURG, designed by Charles Hansom, the city surveyor, was begun in 1843 and completed in 1845, and consisted of an aisled and clerestoried nave, a chancel flanked by chapels, and a south-west tower with a broach spire. The external walls were of granite rubble with freestone dressings, the style being of the 13th and early 14th centuries. Ullathorne and Hansom toured Belgium and Germany in search of models, and created what a critic has called 'a good specimen of the Puginesque gothic revival'. (fn. 19) The presbytery was rebuilt as a small priory for five to six religious, but about this the same critic was less enthusiastic, for he described it as 'small and cheerless, darksome, badly ventilated, badly heated, exiguous'. (fn. 20) Ullathorne left Coventry in 1846, following his appointment as Vicar Apostolic of the Western District. (fn. 21) Owing to his energy and that of Sister Margaret St. Osburg's could at that date claim a larger following than any other Catholic church in Warwickshire apart from Birmingham; congregations of 900-1,000 were reported in 1851. (fn. 22) In 1844 Sister Margaret had founded a small community of Dominican religious tertiaries in Coventry. (fn. 23) The sisters first occupied a house in Spon Street, which was Ullathorne's residence during the rebuilding of the presbytery, but they later removed to the priory attached to St. Osburg's. (fn. 24) In 1846 they moved to join Ullathorne in Bristol. (fn. 25)
St. Mary's Convent was founded in Raglan Street in 1861 by the Sisters of Mercy, who by 1863 had opened a school there. (fn. 26) From 1868 the Sisters also rented a house, later known as St. Joseph's Convent, at Gosford Green. (fn. 27) Mass was celebrated in the chapel of St. Mary's School from 1862 onwards by a priest from St. Osburg's, (fn. 28) and the school became a centre of worship for Catholics in the Hillfields district (fn. 29) before the new church was opened in 1893. A domestic chapel, dedicated to the Sacred Heart, was built at Whitley Abbey between 1867 and 1869 by the owner, Edward Petre, a member of a Catholic family. It was also served from St. Osburg's, (fn. 30) whenever the family was in residence, (fn. 31) at least up to the beginning of the First World War. (fn. 32) By 1884 there are said to have been 2,600 Roman Catholics in Coventry, which thus maintained its position as the leading Roman Catholic centre in Warwickshire outside Birmingham. (fn. 33) Only about 720, however, attended mass on a particular Sunday in 1881, including 216 at St. Mary's School. (fn. 34)
In 1889 St. Osburg's parish was divided and the Raglan Street district became a separate mission with a resident priest. A new church, dedicated to ST. MARY AND ST. BENEDICT, was built and opened in Raglan Street in 1893. (fn. 35) It was built of red brick with stone dressings, in the Early English style, and consisted of nave, apsidal chancel, side chapels, and baptistery. St. Mary's Convent ceased to be used in 1916. (fn. 36) St. Joseph's Convent was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War, but was survived by related foundations at Offchurch and Crackley Hall near Kenilworth. (fn. 37)
It was decided in 1917 to build a church at Earlsdon as a local memorial to Catholic soldiers and sailors killed in the First World War. Funds were raised, and a site bought in Kingsland Avenue. (fn. 38) The parish of All Souls, Earlsdon, was created in 1923 and the church of the PRECIOUS BLOOD AND ALL SOULS, the only new Roman Catholic church to be built in central Coventry after 1893, was opened in 1924. (fn. 39) The church, a tall, impressive building, comprised at first the nave only, designed by G. Cave of Coventry. Transepts, side-chapels, sanctuary, and sacristies were added in 1938, to the design of Bower Norris. The finished church was of reinforced concrete frame construction, faced with pink brick and having stone dressings. The Romanesque style of the nave was reproduced in a simpler form for the eastward extensions of 1938. The church was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War, (fn. 40) but has since been extensively restored. (fn. 41)
St. Osburg's, the old central church, together with the hall, school, and presbytery, was badly damaged by bombing on the night of 14-15 November 1940. (fn. 42) After Christmas Day, 1940, Sunday mass was celebrated in a patched-up corridor of the school until in March 1941 the Vicar of St. John's Anglican parish made St. Saviour's Church, Spon Street, available. This was used until April 1944, by which time St. Osburg's had been sufficiently repaired for it to be re-opened. It was not completely restored, however, until 1952. (fn. 43) A new red-brick building, containing the presbytery and St. Osburg's Priory, was erected on a site to the north of the church after the Second World War.
In the 20th century the Roman Catholic population in Coventry and its neighbourhood both increased and became more widely distributed, and about 1953 a total of 23,000 worshippers was claimed, served by 23 priests in 10 parishes. (fn. 44) The formation, in 1912, of the parish of St. Elizabeth and St. Helen, Foleshill, represented the first separate provision for worship by Roman Catholics in the suburban districts. A site for the proposed new church, at the junction of Highfield Street (later Eld Road) and Stanley Street (later St. Elizabeth's Road), was bought with the aid of a legacy. (fn. 45) Masses for the new parish were said at first in a hall in Highfield Street, then, from November 1913 to October 1915, at the Foleshill Picture Palace, Webster Street, and afterwards, for a short while, in a school, before the church, dedicated to the GOOD SHEPHERD AND ST. ELIZABETH AND ST. HELEN, was opened in 1916. (fn. 46) The building, seating 450, was designed by Harrison & Cox of Birmingham in the Decorated style, and was constructed of brick with terracotta facings. (fn. 47) It consisted of a clerestoried nave with passage aisles, a chancel, a north chapel, and a south transept. The church was damaged during an airraid in 1941 but the work of demolition and reconstruction, to the design of Bernard V. James of Harrison & Cox, was not begun until 1960. In the course of it the sanctuary was enlarged and the church extended to accommodate an extra 150 worshippers. The Sacred Heart and Lady chapels were restored and new sacristies and a clock tower were added. The restored church was reopened and consecrated in 1962. (fn. 48) Since 1960 Bramcote Territorial Army Camp has been served from St. Elizabeth's. (fn. 49)
In 1924 the parish of the Sacred Heart, Stoke, was founded by priests from St. Mary's, Raglan Street. The Roman Catholic school in Harefield Road was used for worship until 1934, when a new church, dedicated to the SACRED HEART, was built on the adjoining site. (fn. 50) It was built of red brick and contained a nave, chancel, and Lady Chapel.
The parish of Christ the King, Coundon, was founded in 1932. Mass was celebrated at first in a private house, and then for a while in the Rialto Cinema in Moseley Avenue, for about 300 parishioners. A house was also rented in Scots Lane where the Feast of the Assumption was kept in a small chapel. The first section of the new church, a weather-boarded building, dedicated to CHRIST THE KING AND OUR LADY OF LOURDES, was opened in Westhill Road early in 1933. Until the arrival of an assistant priest in 1936 the work at weekends was shared by the Franciscan fathers at Olton. (fn. 51) During the Second World War the parish assumed special responsibility for war-workers living in hostels in Haynestone Road. In the post-war years similar work was extended to European immigrants, including Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and Letts. (fn. 52) Italian services were held in 1952, when there were more than a hundred Italian workers living in the parish. (fn. 53)
The parish of St. Thomas More, Stivichall and Cheylesmore, was created in 1943 when regular masses began to be celebrated at Stivichall Parish Hall, at a house in the Chesils, and at Finham Park and the Chace Hostels. (fn. 54) The church of ST. THOMAS MORE in Watercall Avenue was completed in 1946. (fn. 55) It was a brick building designed by W. H. Saunders & Son and provided sittings for 330. (fn. 56) Services continued to be held at the Chace Hostel until 1956. (fn. 57)
Several new suburban Roman Catholic parishes were formed in the years following the Second World War. Services held at the community centre in Masser Road, Foleshill, from 1949, (fn. 58) and later at the school hall in Penny Park Lane, Holbrooks, (fn. 59) resulted eventually in the creation of the new parish of the Holy Family in 1951. This united parts of the parishes of St. Elizabeth and Christ the King. (fn. 60) The HOLY FAMILY Church, in Penny Park Lane, was opened in 1953. (fn. 61) It is a wooden building with sittings for 450, designed by R. J. Sidwell & Partners of Coventry. (fn. 62)
The mission parish of Walsgrave began its existence in 1950, when a resident priest was appointed to conduct services at Stoke Hill Guildhouse, Binley Road, and Wyken Hostel, Belgrave Road. (fn. 63) In 1955 Wyken Hostel was replaced as a mass centre by the St. John Fisher School, Kineton Road. (fn. 64) In 1956 a new permanent church hall, dedicated to ST. PATRICK, was opened for the parish at Clennon Rise, Bell Green, on a site convenient for the residents of the new Henley Green estate. It was designed by K. Newton of W. H. Saunders & Son, and was built of brick to seat 450. (fn. 65) Services have continued to be held at Stoke Hill Guildhouse and at the school. (fn. 66)
The parish of Our Lady of the Assumption, Tile Hill and Canley, also originated in 1950 with the appointment of a resident priest to the district and the celebration of the first masses in Whoberley Council School (later renamed Templars' School). (fn. 67) In 1952 a church hall, which on weekdays was also used as a school, was built in Tile Hill Lane. (fn. 68) This was replaced in 1957 by the new parish church of OUR LADY OF THE ASSUMPTION, (fn. 69) a redbrick building on an adjacent site consisting of nave, chancel, and entrance porch.
In 1956 a priest was appointed to build up a congregation in the district of Ernesford Grange, lying between Binley and Willenhall and near a new housing estate. (fn. 70) The Chace Hostel was again used for services (fn. 71) until a church, dedicated to CORPUS CHRISTI, was opened in 1958 on an isolated site to the south-west of Ernesford Grange. This was designed by J. Lynch of Brierley Hill (Staffs.), (fn. 72) mainly in brick, in a simple mid-20th-century style, and consists of a galleried nave, a stone entrance porch at the west end, and a shallow chancel, surmounted by a low tower. Externally, a slight concave east wall projects beyond the chancel to north and south. From 1957 to 1960 services were also held at Pinley Community Centre, Stoke Aldermoor, (fn. 73) and since 1959 mass has been celebrated once or twice a month at Brandon village hall. (fn. 74)
The latest Catholic parishes to be created in Coventry were intended to serve new housing estates, at Mount Nod and Canley, on the west side of the city. The parish of St. John Vianney, Mount Nod, originated with the celebration of mass in 1959, first in Allesley Hall School in Winsford Avenue on the Allesley Park Estate, (fn. 75) and, later, also at the Phoenix Hotel annexe in Broad Lane and a house in Bishopton Close. (fn. 76) The church of ST. JOHN VIANNEY in Bishopton Close, at the centre of the Mount Nod estate, was opened in 1962. It is a simple rectangular brick building, designed by W. S. Hattrell and Partners, with two porches, a galleried nave, and a sanctuary. (fn. 77)
In 1957 the priest in charge of All Souls Church was responsible for serving new mass centres at Henry Parkes School in Prior Deram Walk, Canley, and at Green Lane ex-servicemen's hut in Leasowes Avenue, where the attendances averaged 240 and 80 respectively. The centre in Leasowes Avenue was later replaced by the boys' department of Ullathorne School, where mass was regularly celebrated from 1958 to 1962. (fn. 78) The parish of St. Joseph the Worker, Canley, was created in 1961 but in 1964 there was as yet no new church in the area and services were still being held in Henry Parkes School. (fn. 79)
Since 1945 several religious communities have been established in Coventry, mainly in connexion with the opening of new Catholic schools in the area: such communities are the Little Sisters of the Assumption, since 1946 at St. Teresa's in Queen Mary's Road, Foleshill; the Vincentian Fathers, since 1956 at St. Vincent's in Kenilworth Road, who came to take charge of the grammar school department of Ullathorne School; and, since 1959, the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul, at Corpus Christi Convent, and at St. Paul's Convent, Potters Green Road, who hold the headships and provide some of the staff in Corpus Christi Primary School and Cardinal Wiseman School. (fn. 80)
During and after the Second World War numbers of eastern Europeans settled in Coventry, including Lithuanians, Poles, and Ukrainians, the majority of whom were Catholics. The Ukrainian community, of Catholics adhering to the Byzantine rite, originated with the arrival in 1947 of the first Ukrainian European Voluntary Workers. The earliest centres of worship for all the immigrant Catholics were various industrial hostels, (fn. 81) notably the Brooklands Hostel in Haynestone Road where about 70 Ukrainian workers were accommodated. In 1948 the church of Christ the King, Coundon, was made available for Ukrainian services which were later transferred to St. Elizabeth's Church, Foleshill. In 1959, when there were 700 Ukrainian Catholics registered in Coventry, these services were being held fortnightly by a resident priest who also served similar, though smaller, communities in Birmingham, Bristol, Cheltenham, Gloucester, and Rugby. (fn. 82) The church of ST. WLADIMIR THE GREAT was opened in 1962 in a former Methodist chapel, (fn. 83) a low wooden hut-like structure standing at the junction of Broad Street and Stoney Stanton Road. Since 1957 the Ukrainian Catholics of the Byzantine rite have been subject to their own ecclesiastical and juridical authority, the Apostolic Exarchate for Ukrainians in England and Wales, which was established in that year. (fn. 84)
Organized worship by the Polish Catholic community in Coventry began in 1948 with services held at the church of Christ the King. From 1951 onwards mass was celebrated weekly at St. Mary's Church, Raglan Street, until in 1961 the church of ST. STANISLAS KOSTKA was opened (fn. 85) at the junction of Harnall Lane and Springfield Road. It is a rectangular building of brown and red brick in a mid-20th-century style, consisting of entrance porch, nave, and chancel. The priest in charge also serves the Polish community in Rugby. (fn. 86)